On Tuesday, Japan and Indonesia signed a deal to boost security ties that will facilitate the transfer of Japanese-made military equipment to Jakarta. The agreement comes after the two countries agreed to conduct joint military exercises in the South China Sea, which is part of an effort to present a united front against China in the region.
While Japan has no claims to the South China Sea, Tokyo is involved in a maritime dispute with Beijing in the East China Sea over the Senkaku Islands. Chinese Coast Guard vessels occasionally sail near the islands, which are currently administered by Japan, which draws protests from Japan and denouncements from the US.
According to Japan’s Kyodo News, after the foreign and defense ministers from each country met and shared “serious concerns” about China’s “continued and strengthened unilateral attempts to alter the status quo by force” in the South and East China seas.
The US is seeking to boost cooperation with Asian countries to counter Beijing. While Indonesia has been more hesitant to get in the middle of the US and China, the agreement with Japan is a sign that Jakarta might be more willing to cooperate with Washington and its allies.
Jakarta is not a claimant in the South China Sea, but the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Indonesia’s Natuna islands slightly overlaps with China’s Nine-Dash Line that outlines Bejing’s claims to the waters. An EEZ is an area of 200 nautical miles off a country’s coast as established by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLO). Under the treaty, a state has rights to the resources of its EEZ.
Last year, the Trump administration formally rejected most of Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea using UNCLOS as a framework, although the US is not a party to the treaty.